Kamloops, Sun Peaks officials talk common sense, respect and Roberts Rules of Order at SILGA conference

Keeping order at city hall

A 700-page rulebook lays out a time-tested method for running council meetings — which the City of Kamloops’ corporate officer says ultimately comes down to applying tact, common sense and respect when conducting business around the horseshoe.

Maria Mazzotta was joined by Sun Peaks CAO Deanna Campbell Tuesday to give a presentation at the Southern Interior Local Government Association conference about keeping order in council and board meetings.

The two discussed Robert’s Rules of Order, the rulebook first published in 1876 and now used by an estimated 85 to 95 per cent of organizations to conduct business at meetings and public gatherings.

Mazzotta said the rules are important for elected officials because they are in place to serve the community and address critical issues, “and that is done much more effectively if there is order to a meeting.”

“While I may not be a huge fan of rules, per se, I am a huge fan of order,” she said.

“A meeting that runs smoothly, respectfully, that gives space for appropriate debate and dialogue and input from the various different voices around the horseshoe — or in the boardroom, if it's a board of directors — to adequately address whatever the issue of the day in front of them is. And rules can assist with that.”

Campbell, who joined the Sun Peaks Mountain Resort Municipality after serving as the Thompson-Nicola Regional District general manager of corporate and legislative services, said meeting etiquette is also important for productivity.

“Your meetings, this is where some of the most important work is done, where important decisions are made. You have a lot to do, and not a lot of time,” Campbell said.

She said orderly meetings can foster the public’s trust in their local elected officials, and helps build positive relationships with fellow colleagues.

Mazzotta said the meeting process is relatively straightforward. An issue comes up for discussion, a decision must be made and each person around the table has the opportunity to speak to it.

Speakers are obliged to be concise and respectful, and everyone else is responsible for carefully considering the points raised. Once everyone has been heard, the democratic process takes over and the majority vote decides the outcome, or the resolution. Mazzotta noted the term resolution speaks to the resolve of the council or board, and to the nature of why representatives are elected — to solve problems.

“It's not rocket science. And I think it's often emotion that gets in the way and other tangential issues that have nothing to do with what's on the agenda,” Mazzotta said.

She said Robert's Rules of Order has been applied to create efficiencies, and to help avoid confusion. It was written for a broad range of groups and includes a lot of detail, but it comes down to a couple of key themes.

“The guy who wrote the rulebook himself said that essentially, no rules can take the place of somebody running a meeting well, using tact and common sense,” Mazzotta said.

When asked what dissuades people from breaking Robert’s Rules, Mazzotta said in general, people are raised to follow the rules, but there’s also a spirit of rebellion and resistance in our culture as well.

“There's competing impulses in each of us for order and for revolution,” Mazzotta said.

“I just think that both are healthy. We need change, and we need people who see a boundary and are like, ‘OK, maybe this could be shaped differently’ — but it just needs to be done in a respectful way.”

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